This was our 2nd Azamara cruise this year - which says a lot about this little cruise line!
We cruised for just 7 days from Athens, visiting Mykonos, Kusadasi, Kos, Rhodes, Marmaris, Santorini then back to Athens. 4 of these ports were new to us so we were looking forward to the itinerary a lot - as well as the Azamara way of staying in ports late at night giving us the opportunity to go ashore for dinner (Mykonos) or to go clubbing in Rhodes until 3am (we didn't).
We flew out the day before and stayed one night in the Melia Athens, a good hotel with a great rooftop bar approx 20 mins stroll from the Plaka. Because of the on/off nature of the strikes we arranged for a driver to pick us up from the airport (unnecessary as it turned out as the cabs were not on strike that day) for €45 and then for a driver to take us from the hotel to the port the next day - which was necessary as there was not a cab to be seen on the street. This cost €40 and we were at the port around 10.30. Checkin started at 11 prompt and we were on board by 11.05!
As we had been on the ship before there was little need for exploring - we went for lunch and the first of the glasses of wine.
My previous review had a section called 'Niggles' so let's get these out of the way first... the ship is apparently going in for a BIG refurbishment in November 2012 as we were advised by the Captain at the LCV drinks reception. No details of what is actually going to happen but apparently the ship is going to be fully revamped. Flat TV screens and no shower curtains perhaps.... But that said the areas that looked shabby before still look shabby I'm afraid, the pool badly needs retiling/regrouting and the flush in one of the ladies restrooms that was hanging off the wall in March is still hanging off the wall... The clock in the room needs a degree in physics to operate (IMHO). Also I feel that at 5* line should know to present fish knives/forks when you order fish; as you would receive in a 5* restaurant. These little things could be easily sorted and further enhance the ACC experience. That aside the service and smiles that you receive from all staff on board more than make up for this. And the complimentary wines!
The wines are available with meals. They have stopped the cheap beer deals, apparently when they introduced the drinks packages. Personally I can see no merit in the drinks packages but Karl, (fabulous barman) told me apparently they do sell quite a few packages. The packages cost $29/$39/$49pp and cover beer and wine (outside of the meal hours) and then sprits and then top shelf sprits.
The wine offered during the day did not always match up with what was printed on the menu. If you don't like the wine offering of the day you can always ask for another variety; and of course you can take on drink as you want (which is totally contracting what it says on both the UK and USA websites)
The daily wines were:
Don Alegario Albarino Spain and The Crusher Merlot California
R Collection Chardonnay and Footprint Shiraz
Kato NZ Sauv Blanc (sorry didn't catch the red that day)
Caliterra SB Chile and Periquita Portugal
Hill Chardonnay Spain and Melini Caborel Chianti Italy
Dashwood NZ Sauv Blanc and Periquita Portugal
Gerard Bertrand Chardonnay and Gerard Bertrand Cabernet France
Drink costs in general are very reasonable - it helps to have no 18% service added - a G&T is $5.50 and a margarita was $6.0. Beers are around $5. Daily cocktails are $5 and $4 (for the non alcoholic ones)
The ship has also started to source food ashore -such as the fabulous sea bream we had at the white nights party in Kusadasi and the delicious tangy feta in Rhodes. This is more akin to the Silversea's 'shopping with the chef' experience and went down very well.
In 2 ports they bought on local dancers - the Turkish night had a belly dancer - the question on everyone's mind was "was she wearing any underwear....". It was a good night - the CD Russ threw his heart and soul into the evening!
We went to the show just once - a good soul singer who knew how to work the crowd. Last time we were on board there was a fabulous 'Perry Grant' type who use to really interact with the audience in the Mosaic Cafe who we saw every night. Unfortunately now they have relegated his replacement to the corner of the casino and replaced the Mosaic entertainment to a harpist. This does not work IMHO. Having a lively entertainer draws people to that central area (and into the shops...)
Regarding the shops, there is no sale of cigarettes or alcohol and the selection of watches and jewellery is far from 5*- not even Tags or Gucci's on sale, more like Fossil or Citizen......
There were just 2 children on board. They seemed to amuse themselves. Because of the port intensive nature of this itinerary the casino and shops were rarely open.
We ate in the main dining room just once, the buffet area is just so good on this ship, and sitting outside under the stars is so relaxing. In addition we also dined at Aqualina twice which was fabulous given the $15pp cover charge. The cheese soufflE and lobster thermidor and chocolate fondue are divine!
As a Discover member we enjoyed the 237 minutes pp of complimentary internet. We also received champagne in the room and were invited to sit with officers at the super brunch they served one day. We found the internet worked well with both our iPad and iPhones. I also liked the new beach bags you got as they now proudly displayed the cruise name, whereas before it was hidden on the fob. The complimentary laundry also worked well with all items returning nicely pressed the next day. Whilst writing this I have just realised that we were not invited to a bridge/galley tour; and that I did not notice this on the daily planner at all. Perhaps because we were always arriving in ports early and leaving late?
Because this was our 2nd cruise this year on this ship, we did not splash out on a balcony. The room was very well equipped with ample storage. The Elemis toiletries in the bathroom included Time to Spa aromazing shampoo, Provitamin conditioner, Sharp shower and bath gel, Vitamin rich body lotion and earbuds and cotton wool. TV channels included ESPN so DH could watch the World Cup rugby. It is also one of the most interactive TV I have ever seen - you can see the menus for the whole cruise on it. There is also a good variety of room service choices. There was also a daily movie showing as well as the Pay per view which ranged from recent releases like Bridesmaids to Paul and Red Riding Hood. Costs varied from $9.98 to $11.98. There are 4 plugs - 2 USA and 2 European, there is a hairdryer in one of the dresser cupboards and there is also another 'tube' one on the bathroom wall. Personally I think the size of the shower is just fine, I just wish they would get rid of the shower curtains. There is a clothes line so you can dry your swimmies.
On the last day we were able to take advantage of the stay late on board offer. Apparently they do not know whether they are able to offer this until approved by the port authorities, so we did keep checking with GR daily to see if they had clearance yet. This cost $25pp. We had to vacate the room by 8.30, we then went to breakfast and we had to go to the gangway to check out of the ship - our cards made a funny sounding 'dong' which indicated we were stay-laters....we went to the pool, and then had lunch (with wine) before disembarking around noon. Outside several taxis waited (obviously not a strike day) to take us to the airport for €50 which appeared to be a set fare.
With regards to the ports - Mykonos we tendered right into the town, unlike those ships who were docked at the cruise terminal which looked a few miles away. We caught the bus at 11.00 to Paradise Beach for €1.60pp e/w. A good beach, but not very nice sand, with a selection of restaurants and bars. We went ashore for dinner, I think we were one of the few to do so; but it was a lively place, with plenty of restaurants. It was nice not to feel rushed. However due to the poor € rate everything did seem to be very expensive and a rather ordinary meal was €70. The other thing we were thinking of doing was getting a day pass at one of the boutique hotels there - the St John does a day pass for €30 at http://www.saintjohn.gr/ they collect you from the port and drop you back. But on reflection I'm glad we didn't and we got to see the island
In Kusadasi we had visited Ephesus on a recent cruuse so we went for a stroll and had a fabulous lunch at a waterfront restaurant. Kos, again a simple stroll into town, where there were antiquities literally lying around. Another good lunch by the sea. There appeared to be many stray cats in this town and they were all well fed and looked after. There were collection boxes for you to contribute to their food - of which we contributed! There are a few tourist 'trains' - the blue one will take you to the Asclepion for €5 return. To find the blue train stop - go to the road and then turn left under the bridge, or before you even exit the port take the road to your left keeping the water on your left and the castle walls on your right.
Rhodes was a gem - a very short walk to the city walls. We caught a bus to Lindos for €5pp e/w. Rather touristy but worth seeing.
Marmaris was fabulous with a newly developed waterfront walkway with statues and fountains and many many restaurants. The market was vast and we stocked up on our copies of Superdry, Ralph Lauren and Hollister products. This was the port with the shortest time which was a shame. Entry to the castle is TRY3pp and they do not accept Euro FYI.
The last time I visited Santorini I was so upset by the very visible signs of abuse to the donkeys that I vowed that I would never set foot on the island again - so we didn't. This was our pool day.
As said we loved all other ports and loved the stay late, unrushed feel of each port. I also like the fact that in each port they bring on a local guide, with local maps to advise you on what to do if you want to DIY and you are not forced into the ship's tours.
In summary an excellent cruise on the cruise industry's hidden gem. We look forward to the next one......